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Music Consumption: Polvo
09/15/2002 Polvo: Today's Active Lifestyles

I'm in the middle of a serious Polvo period, and this early full-length from these much-missed (by me) North Carolina titans has logged a lot of hours in the CD player and iTunes this summer. I've heard them described as "Sonic Youth by way of Big Star" (or perhaps the reverse), which is a good enough starting point, I'd think. There are the nonstandard tunings, resulting in tasty mildly dissonant ringing intervals on the open strings and occasional rubber-band sounds, some aggressive strumming as you'd expect, and there's also a tuneful pop sense and a concern with the arrangement of the guitar interplay. But it's more than that, too--the song structures are odd, with measures of unusual lengths, and very strange melodies. Polvo's passports definitely sported stamps from the land of Math Rock, although I wouldn't call that their home.

Case in point is the lead-off track, "Thermal Treasure," beginning with a slow duet of detuned guitars, so slow as to verge on being brain-damaged ambling. Indeed, by 0:21 it seems to fall apart completely, and it's quite a shock when a little cast-off kind of phrase at 0:27 turns out to be the riff into which the band explodes at the half-minute mark, stunningly tight even as the intro seemed sloppy. A very neat trick. We're then led through three distinct sections...twice, plus a complete variation on it before the vocals come in on the second variation at 1:45. Sounds "complex," to be sure, but the impact is real. You don't need a Ph.D. in order to rock. And what I can make out of the lyrics are a treat as well--some obscure observations of little details are sung and shouted with great urgency.

What impresses me about this song is that there are so many things done "wrong" (or which sound as if they'd be wrong from the description) and it turns out completely right when you hear it--sort of emblematic for this band. "Lazy Comet" is similar in its apparently sloppy beginning, but the band builds quite the groovy riff out of this sloppiness. And this, too, is a song built from many sections. The band's penchant for long musical phrases is showcased on the positively gorgeous guitar duet "My Kimono," which unwinds itself in surprising ways.

The rest of the disc boasts other good songs and fine moments on this disc (the extended "Tilebreaker" and the energetic-to-reflective "Action Vs. Vibe" in particular, also "Time Isn't on My Side," which kicks off a practice of parodic name-checking of other bands and songs on other discs), but after these first three, you're pretty much in Polvo's sound world for good. And I'll tell you, it's a fine place to be.